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Category Archives: TV

Now Is a Good Time to Invest in These 3 TV Comedies

Source: Mashable

As we move into May, there are a lot of great TV shows to choose from… but a lot of those great shows are ones that you had to invest in a long time ago if you want to enjoy them now. Online streaming has obviously made it easier for people to binge-watch and get caught up, and I’m all for people marathoning shows that are part of the cultural zeitgeist, but I also know there are a lot of people out there who don’t feel like catching up with Mad Men while it’s entering its last season or getting into Game of Thrones now that it’s 4 seasons and 5,000 characters in.

For the more casual TV viewers, I’d like to offer up some safer but still rewarding investments: 3 comedies that you can watch now without making a huge time commitment or having to memorize 50 back stories.

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4 Southern Gothic Books to Read Post-True Detective

As is my usual practice with popular TV shows, I hold out for a few months, then decide to watch the pilot just to see what all the fuss is about, then fall into an antisocial state of binge-watching that show for the next several days/weeks. The latest show to suck me into its orbit was True Detective, which thankfully only has one manageable 8 episode season so far. I didn’t think I’d like the show at first because I’m not usually a big fan of police procedurals, but I got on board when I realized that True Detective isn’t so much a crime-solving show as it is a Southern gothic novel in TV form.

Southern gothic, for those who don’t get as excited as me when it comes to defining genres, is a style of writing that typically follows flawed characters as they navigate through dark or sinister events in the American South. Sometimes there’s magic involved, often there’s a folklore element, and there’s almost always some kind of decay (of buildings, society, what have you). Basically, the Southern Gothic Wikipedia page should just have a giant picture of True Detective on it by now.

So for those who watched True Detective and discovered that they’ve been latent Southern Gothic fans this whole time, I’m going to throw out a few book recommendations. Important note: I’m not claiming to be an expert in the genre, and I’m not writing a “Best Southern Gothic Novels Ever” list. I’ll admit that I haven’t even read any novels by William Faulkner, which is a pretty big oversight on my part. However, I know what I like, and these are 4 books that have really stood out to me.

Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor

Every time I picked up this book I sort of felt like I had a high fever and was suffering hallucinations, but in the best possible way. There’s just something so off-kilter about this novel, which features a blind preacher, an unpredictable teenage zookeeper, a man bent on sharing the gospel of anti-religion, and a teenage nymphomaniac, among other characters. Fans of True Detective will appreciate the themes of faith and illusion, and everyone should appreciate a particularly bizarre scene involving a gorilla costume.

Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote

I guess the obvious choice for a Truman Capote book on this list would be In Cold Blood, but truth be told, I enjoyed Other Voices, Other Rooms more. I think what appealed to me most was the setting of the derelict Mississippi mansion and the sensitivity with which Capote writes 13-year-old protagonist Joel Harrison Knox and the characters who surround him. While In Cold Blood is a “true crime” novel that takes a more journalistic tone, Other Voices, Other Rooms is partially autobiographical and gives the reader an interesting look at the author’s background. If the character development was what you liked best about True Detective, read this.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt

I read this book when I was probably too young for it (12-year-old me learned a lot about drag queen culture in Savannah), but I still loved it. While it’s based on a true murder case, it reads like a novel and is so addicting that it shouldn’t take long to finish. Berendt paints such vivid pictures of the characters and the settings that I felt like I was a member of the Savannah, Georgia community by the end. If you liked the fleeting moments of humor that popped up amidst the darkness of True Detective (mostly stemming from Rust’s eccentricities) then you may enjoy the blending of light and dark in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Coiled in the Heart, Scott Elliott

Full disclosure: Scott Elliott was one of my English professors at Whitman College, so there may be some bias here, but I still think fans of True Detective will enjoy Coiled in the Heart. The novel follows Tobia Caldwell, a man who is haunted into adulthood by the fact that he caused a neighbor boy’s snakebite death when the two of them were young. To complicate matters further, Tobia is in love with that neighbor boy’s twin sister. The book is full of ghosts, fading Southern families, untamed nature, antebellum mansions—basically everything you could ask for in a Southern Gothic novel.

Bonus Book: Waterland, Graham Swift

I can’t officially call this book a “Southern Gothic” recommendation because it’s not set in the South—it’s set in the marshes of East Anglia. However, Waterland is one of my all-time favorite novels and features a lot of Southern Gothic elements, including a rural setting, a “cursed” family, and multiple doomed romances. Somehow, it manages not to be melodramatic. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, so I’ll just say check it out while you’re waiting for another show to fill the True Detective void.

5 Things Pop Culture Thinks Writers Do

So last month I started a job where I mostly get to blog all day (some of the blog posts I write are about DIY plumbing or trade shows in Vietnam, but still). I’m pretty excited about it because I’ve wanted to write professionally since roughly the age of 5, when I used to write sentence-long stories in crayon and force my family to listen to them. The job has more or less lived up to my expectations of what it’s like to be a writer. However, I’ve realized that my perception of being a writer has been somewhat skewed by the pop culture portrayal of writerly folks… and I’m pretty sure pop culture has led a lot of other people to have skewed ideas about what writers do as well. Here are 5 of my favorite pop culture representations of things that writers are supposed to get up to.

1. Stare forlornly at their typewriters.

Guilty parties: Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby, probably anything that Baz Luhrmann decides to direct in the future

In fairness, there have been studies showing that highly creative people have increased rates of bipolar and depression disorders, but come on, Hollywood– not every writer spends every day weeping salty artist tears onto their vintage typewriters while dabbing at their eyes with a croissant (maybe I’m remembering Moulin Rouge incorrectly, but I think that’s what Ewan MacGregor does). That wouldn’t be at all productive, especially in this modern age of not-entirely-water-resistant laptops.

2. Spend only a tiny fraction of their time actually writing.

Guilty parties: Sex and the City and…probably something else, but Sex and the City is the main offender

According to this trope, writers spend .5% of their time writing and 99.5% of the time going out on the town with their gal pals. I’m pretty sure Carrie Bradshaw must get paid about 10 grand per sex pun, because that’s the only way I can imagine she affords her lifestyle. Homegirl’s getting a lot of O’s in her paycheck (that was my attempt at a Carrie Bradshaw pun–can I have $10,000 for my efforts, please?).

3. Practice being a recluse.

Guilty parties: Girls, A Series of Unfortunate Events

Alright, maybe there’s some truth to this… I would probably be in danger of descending into recluse-dom if I was left to my own devices and didn’t have 4 (awesome) housemates and a boyfriend who watches the same TV shows I do. It’s all too easy to get sucked into a writing assignment, put your headphones in, and then start thinking you’re the phantom of the opera or something. This phantom of the opera fantasy becomes even more full-blown when you’re sitting on your bed in your darkened room with only the glow of your laptop illuminating your face (at least it does for me).

4. Retreat into a land of child-like whimsy.

Guilty parties: Midnight in Paris (to some extent), Finding Neverland

In the world of movie logic, if writers aren’t being tragic mopesacks, they’re being zany dreamers with imaginations that can’t be contained– or they’re being mopesacks who use their escapist fantasies to put a buffer between themselves and a reality they’d rather not deal with. But hey, it’s a trope that really gets you to empathize with the protagonist…or at least it works on me. I cried like a baby at the end of Finding Neverland. 

5. Descend slowly into madness.

Guilty parties: The Shining, Secret Window

Apparently only a deeply disturbed person with homicidal tendencies would ever choose a career that involves sitting quietly while forming words on a page all day. And according to pop culture, writers are just one key stroke away from letting the waves of crazy wash over them. Sometimes writers will just be depicted as mildly eccentric, or antisocial, or drunk, but movies like The Shining and Secret Window take the trope one step farther and depict writers as in need of some serious counseling…and in desperate need of being kept away from axes and baseball bats.

As an side note, I really enjoy all the movies and TV shows I referenced above (well, except maybe Sex and the City). I just also enjoy pointing out tropes.

If you’re interested in checking out more movies and TV shows about writers, here are a few good ones:

  • Spaced (TV)
  • Barton Fink (movie)
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (book and movie)
  • 30 Rock (TV)

My Rejected Scripts #4: TV Spinoff Edition

While watching Starsky and Hutch with the sound off on a gym treadmill this week, I saw the following promo for the next episode of one of my current favorite shows, Breaking Bad:

This clip gives next to nothing away about this Sunday’s episode, but it does do an excellent job of capturing the close-up angsty expressions of every single major character on the show. Everyone in the clip looks like they just finished reading Where the Red Fern Grows while sitting in the lobby of an animal shelter for adorable kittens with chronic illnesses. And I guess that makes sense, considering what a dark show we’re talking about.

Anyway, thinking about the darkness of Breaking Bad reminded me of an article I read about a month ago talking about how series creator Vince Gilligan wants to make a prequel spin-off for Saul Goodman, the sketchy lawyer who is the main source of comic relief in the show. To that idea I say: Good work, Mr. Gilligan. In my opinion, there aren’t enough gritty cable dramas with light-hearted spin-offs. With that in mind, I’ve come up with several of my own proposals for spin-offs of some of my favorite shows.

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Rerun Recommendation of the Day: Spaced

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As a Pacific Northwesterner, I know that summer is supposed to be the time when I crawl blinking out of my cave and absorb as much sunlight as possible before that mysterious orange orb vanishes for about 9 months. However, I get to commune with nature at my summer job (whether I want to or not) and I’m also kind of like those pale kids in The Others who allegedly have a sun allergy or something, so I’ve been spending a lot of my non-work hours catching up on TV indoors, where humans were meant to be.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of new television this summer that I’m really excited about. HBO’s Girls still has a few episodes yet, and I’ll probably begrudgingly start watching So You Think You Can Dance soon, but other than that I’m mostly planning on rediscovering some older shows.

I’m starting with Spaced, a British sitcom that first aired in 1999, because with a 14-episode run, you can watch it in about a week (or a day if you’re a TV-marathon type) and because it’s generally fantastic. The basic premise is that a young man and woman pretend to be a couple in order to rent an apartment, but the series very quickly veers off and focuses more on the friendships between a group of very weird characters.  You can watch the show totally legally on Hulu (because I wouldn’t know anything about illegally watching TV online, ever…).

So, here are some reasons you should check it out:

  • Young Simon Pegg is in it with hilariously bleached ’90s hair.
  • Brit actors/comedians Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes cowrote and star in the show and have wonderful chemistry and timing.
  • There are so many references to famous movies, and sometimes iconic scenes are recreated shot for shot. It’s really fun trying to figure out all the pop culture shout-outs, and the references could probably also make for a good drinking game.
  • The secondary characters are all really endearing. My favorite is Marsha, the perpetually deadpan landlady.
  • The humor and the premises for the episodes are sometimes incredibly strange, but in the best possible way. For example, in my favorite episode (Chaos), the main characters’ dog is kidnapped by an evil vivisectionist, and the group of friends plans an elaborate heist to steal the dog back.

That’s it on the recommendations for now, but as the oppressive sun continues to beat down on Washington state, I’m sure I’ll be back with more soon.